Scotland Day Three

On day three, we headed to River Droma to see the 60m plunge into the River Droma. The walk to a Victorian suspension bridge is short but steep. Once there, you can see one of the most spectacular gorges and view a series of crashing waterfalls.

Love the sign on the bridge

You can see the bridge we were on.

On the path to the falls

Corrieshalloch Gorge is designated a National Nature Reserve. The paths are easily negotiated around the woodland—a beautiful and quiet place to be.
We were supposed to go to Applecross, but the roads were blocked due to repairs.

This is a picture heavy post but I hope you still enjoy it.

Scotland – Day two

Day two:
The first stop was to Assynt’s mountains to the Highland Folk Museum, where they have recreated Baile Gean Township faithful to the original site’s archaeology. The buildings look as though they had been there for centuries.
The museum sits on 80 acres, and we did not have enough time to see it all. I would set aside half a day to enjoy this site. Well worth it.

Highland Folk Museum

Inside one of the huts

From there, we travelled to the 15th-century ruins of Ardvreck Castle. We could not walk right up to the ruins as the water was too high for us to cross. The castle was the property of the MacLeods of Assynt. James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, took refuge in 1650 after losing the Battle of Carbisdale. Montrose was betrayed to the Covenanters and subsequently executed in Edinburgh, his body dismembered and displayed in public. Gruesome story.

Ardvreck Castle

Ardvreck Castle

Calda House

Calda House

Calda House

Just a short walk from Ardvreck Castle is Calda House. The lands were the property of the MacLeods but passed to the Mackenzies. They built the house in about 1660. The family was said to have held wild parties and soon became short of money. The house was plundered and torched in 1737. As the story goes, it was perhaps done deliberately by the Mackenzies as they were in debt. The Mackenzies felt that if they couldn’t have the house, then no one could.

The ruins are said to be haunted by the apparition of a woman. There are also reports of eerie lights around Calda in the middle of the night, making motorists think that cars are approaching, although they do not encounter any other vehicles.

On our drive to Achmelvich Bay, we passed magnificent scenery. Scotland is such a beautiful country. I will probably be repeating that phrase a lot.

Achmelvich Bay is a surprise. Pure white sandy beach. It is small but very delightful. One does not expect to see this in Scotland. It looks like it belongs to a hotter climate.

Achmelvich Bay

Achmelvich Bay

Achmelvich Bay

We spent another night in Ullapool.

Our Bnb

Scotland

 

My last trip before going to Mexico and before Covid was to Scotland and Ireland. It is not like it was not on my bucket list – everywhere in the world is on that list – but it wasn’t at the top. Which, considering Scotland is where my ancestors are from, was strange. But, a friend wanted to go and asked if I would join her. Of course, I said yes.

We decided to fly to Edinburgh. It is not a bad airport as airports go. We decided to take an Uber to our accommodations as we had just flown over 12 hours and were very tired. I do not sleep well on planes. We did not want to figure out the local transportation at that point.  It was an overnight flight, and we had arrived quite early. The hotel allowed us to leave our luggage there as it was too early to check-in. We went looking for a restaurant, found one and passed the time away in a lack of sleep stupor.

At this point, I should suggest that you do not do what we did. We had booked a five-day tour early the next morning. Not the smartest thing to do. I would give yourself at least a day to settle into the time change and lack of sleep.

The next morning, we got up reasonably early, had breakfast at the hotel and got an Uber to the train station. We were to meet the tour group there. We chose Rabbies Tours as they were a small group tour company. I’m not too fond of the big bus tours. Too many people to be able to see the sites properly. Rabbies was the best decision we had made. Our tour guide for the trip was Jim. He was excellent. Very knowledgeable and funny.

On day one, we headed north over the Firth of Forth to the charming highland village of Dunkeld. The first stop in Dunkeld was the Dunkeld Cathedral. It is beautifully situated on the banks of the River Tay. Half the church is still in use, and the other half is being restored. Great start on our tour.

 

 

 

A beautiful setting by the lake.

 

This section of the church is still open for services.

 

 

The centre of Dunkeld is The Cross, where you will see the Atholl Memorial Fountain, built-in 1866 in memory of George Augustus Frederick John, 6th Duke of Atholl. He had introduced a piped water supply to Dunkeld. Before the piped water, all water had to be carried up from the River Tay by hand.

One of the streets where water was brought up by hand

The Duke served as Grand Master of Masons for Scotland for 21 years. The fountain is covered with traditional Masonic symbols and native Scottish birds and animals.

On Cathedral Street and High Street are 20 18th century merchants’ houses, also known as the “Little Houses.” They were part of rebuilding started after the Battle of Dunkeld in 1689.  They have been restored to their original 18th-century appearance.

There are a lot of heritage plaques. One I found was the childhood home of Alexander Mackenzie, the first Liberal Prime Minister of Canada.

 

From Dunkeld, we headed to the Cairngorms National Park and the ancient pine forests. Cairngorms National Park is the largest national park in the UK. The ancient pine forests are part of the Rothiemurchus Estate. It is famous for having one of Scotland’s largest ancient forest of Scots pine that once covered most of Scotland. Both places were breathtakingly beautiful.

We travelled to Loch Ness and had a boat ride to do some “Nessie” spotting. No, I did not spot anything that could even remotely resemble Nessie. We went into the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibit. There are some fascinating theories. Are you a believer?

We had a lovely lunch at the Oak Tree Inn in Loch Loman. We sat in the pub area with a fireplace. Lovely ambience. After lunch, we did a quick tour around Loch an Eilein castle.

 

 

Our dessert!

Loch is the Scottish word for lake.

We headed towards Ullapool, where we were to spend two nights. We had a lovely B & B. Our breakfast was nothing short of delicious.

Our Airbnb

Porto, Portugal

Porto

Porto is very different from Lisbon. I enjoyed Lisbon, but Porto has more of a European feel. The Ribeira is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Porto. It is filled with narrow medieval streets that are enchanting to walk. One of the areas that I enjoyed was the Cais da Ribeira, the waterfront along the river. You will find old warehouses turned into shops and restaurants, some with music to while away a pleasant evening. From any of the restaurants, you can see across the river to Vila Nova de Gaia, where all the port-wine cellars and sampling restaurants are located. This neighbourhood is located at the lowest point in Porto. If you do not feel like walking up the hills, you can take a taxi or the Funicular dos Guindais.

 

To get to Vila Nova de Gaia, you can take a taxi, train or walk across the iconic Dom Luis 1 bridge. The bridge has two decks, one for trains, one for vehicles. Both have pedestrian walks. The top deck has excellent views of Porto.

Taken from the Gaia side

Looking from the Gaia side, you can see the riverside restaurants at Ribeira

Once in Gaia, you can cellar-hop at several of the lodges or do sampler at one of the many lodges’ bars/restaurants. Four of the most well-known lodges are Calem, Taylor’s, Sandeman, Dow’s and Graham’s. I spent a couple of afternoons exploring this area.

If you enjoy shopping, also across the bridge is a vast department store. El Corte Ingles (The English Court) think Eaton’s if you are Canadian. There are at least six floors, each with its specialty. There are some good quality restaurants and a big supermarket — everything you want in one.

Back in Porto, there are so many things to see and do. Watch for all the Azulejos (colourful tiles) all around the city — the most famous being the Sao Bento Train Station. The mosaics which cover the walls were designed by Jorge Colaco, which depicts famous battles.

Another masterpiece by Colaco is the façade of the Church of Saint Ildefonso.

The Palacio de Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace) was built to be the seat of Porto’s Commercial Association. It truly is built like a palace and is very impressive on the inside. Well worth a visit.

Whether you are a Harry Potter fan or not,  a visit to Livraria Lello, one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal, should be on your must-see list. JK Rowling lived and worked in Porto in the early ’90s. It is said that she was inspired to base the Hogwarts Library and the Flourish and Blotts shop on this library. It would be best if you arrived early to get a chance to see this very busy bookstore. You need to buy your ticket – 5 E –  at the corner of Rua da Carmelitas and Armazens do Castelo.  The store will open about 15 minutes before the bookstore does. The cost of the ticket will be taken off any purchase you make at the bookstore.

Another visit should be made to MacDonald’s restaurant. That’s right, MacDonald’s. It is in a historical building. When MacDonald’s bought the building, they kept all the architectural elements, including the chandeliers. It is amazing. I think MacDonald’s should step up the design on all their other buildings.

Some of the food that Porto is known for include the Francesinha. You need an appetite or someone to share this. It is a sandwich with ham, sausage and steak covered with melted cheese and a gooey egg. It is delicious. Another dish is Tripas a Moda do Porto, a trip stew with beans and rice. I did not try that one. Another specialty is dishes made with Bacalhau, which is dried codfish. There is a restaurant across the river in Gaia called Bacalhau, where they only serve dishes made with the dried cod. I had a lovely meal there.

There are amazing little restaurants tucked away all over Porto. I had some fantastic meals and was entertained by street musicians.

This ice cream is not as big as it appears but it was delicious. You can choose several flavours and they will make it into a beautiful flower. I chose lighter “flavours” so it is difficult to see the different ice cream flavours.

A visit to Igreja de Sao Francisco is not for the faint-hearted. Beneath the church are the catacombs where the Franciscan monks and Porto’s wealthiest families are buried. There are also thousands of human bones. You can view some of these through a glass window in the floor. In the church, there is the Tree of Jesse, a wooden sculpture depicting the family tree of Jesus. 

To the right are the stairs to the church

Under the floors are the bones

 

 

Getting around in Porto is quite easy. The local transportation is excellent. Depending on where your accommodations are, it is easy to walk around, but having said that, it is very hilly. I got a lot of exercise.

 

 

Coimbra, Portugal

COIMBRA, PORTUGAL

“It seems that the more places I see and experience, the bigger I realize the world to be. The more I become aware of, the more I realize how relatively little I know of it, how many places I still have to go, the more there is to learn. Maybe that’s enlightenment enough; to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”  Anthony Bourdain

 

I was to meet my sister in Porto in a few days, so I took the opportunity to stop in Coimbra. I booked at Hotel Domas.  Their information stated that it was across the street from the train station. Perfect, I thought. It will be easy to catch the train to Porto. After a couple of hours of travel Lisbon, I arrived at the Coimbra station. Everyone got off the train. This was a good sign that I was in the right place. Wrong. I walked towards the street and looked for the hotel.  Nothing.   I couldn’t see anything that resembled a hotel or a restaurant. So, I walked a bit further to the taxi stand.  I asked a taxi driver where I would find the Hotel Domas. He said that it was downtown Coimbra. I explained that the hotel was supposed to be across the street from the train station. He said that is correct, but it is Coimbra “A” station. I needed to take another train to that location. So I took a taxi to the hotel.  It was a 10-minute ride. Much easier.

 Coimbra is home to Portugal’s most prestigious University and its first. The University is located on a steep hilltop. I decided to walk. I was not sure how far I had gone, but I was huffing and puffing my way up. I met a couple coming down and asked them if this was the right road to the University. They responded, yes. I asked them how much further. They said, “oh, you are about halfway.” Oh wow. So, I took a few minutes to catch my breath and take a picture of part of the steep road. Once I arrived, the view and the University’s buildings were astonishing. It is still traditional that students attend class in black robes and capes. They also have a set of rites and practices called the Codigo de praxe. Some of the rites and practices have been changed, such as curfew. It was 6:00 pm, but now it is set at midnight. The 16th to 18th-century buildings, all set around a vast courtyard, makes an impressive setting. I would feel very inspired if I were to study there.

Halfway

View from halfway up to the university

One of the main attractions at the University is the library. You pay a small fee for tickets and wait for about 20 minutes as only about a dozen people in at a time are allowed in. It is beyond description. You are not permitted to take pictures but can buy postcards of the library in their store at the University. As for the rest of the University, you can explore on your own or with a guide. Allow time to explore the University and beyond. There is also an attractive garden down the street from there. Well worth the effort.

Entrance

law student selling pencils.

the ticket office for entry into the library

Couple going into the church for a wedding

It seemed like it was a tradition to throw the capes down for the bride and groom to walk on

I always like to try local food and restaurants that are not set up for tourists.  I asked the staff at the hotel, and they recommended a restaurant only a couple of blocks from the hotel. So off I went to find the restaurant. I followed their directions down a narrow street only to find myself in an open area with a table and two chairs in the middle — nothing else. I looked around and could not see a restaurant. Upon further inspection, down an opening, I saw a meat display case.  As I got closer, I spied a restaurant on my right. This was not a tourist destination. I took a seat and explained to the waiter what I was looking for, something authentic. I got my wish! I was served this wonderful meal of lamb that had been braising all day in a  broth. Because of the language barrier, I couldn’t fully understand everything he was saying about the dish. My mouth waters just with the memory of it. The only sad part was that the portion was so big I couldn’t finish it or take it back to my hotel.

Narrow street to restaurant

Food display. You can see to the right is the restaurant.

I decided to go to a Fado concert. It was very different from any of the shows in Lisbon.  Men in black capes, usually university students, traditionally do the singing. It was very good, but I preferred the Lisbon version.

Portugal dos Pequenitos is a theme park that has doll-house size buildings that are versions of Portugal’s famous monuments and buildings. Obviously, I am not a child, but I had a fun afternoon exploring the buildings and the garden. The children I saw were having a blast. There is a small store where you can purchase drinks and snacks. 

Entrance

There are quaint shopping areas and other sights to see.  But, I did not have time in my two days to see and do everything — next time.

 

 

LISBON part two

“I don’t want to not live because of my fear of what could happen.”- Laird Hamilton

Lisbon, Portugal, was a surprise for me. I am not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t to fall in love with Portugal. So why did I choose it? I was just coming out of Morocco, where I had done a 15-day tour. Since I had already been to Spain, it seemed reasonable to visit Portugal as the second leg of my adventure.

I flew from Marrakesh to Lisbon. Lisbon has a different feel from other European cities. It has a cosmopolitan feel combined with old city charm.

One of the first things I did was take a 3-hour tuk-tuk tour. My guide took me to places that would have taken me hours to get to by walking on my own. She showed me beautiful little streets with quaint shops and historical sites. The best for me was when she took me to a tiny bar with a fado singer. I was hooked instantly! Fado is the heart and soul of Portugal. It certainly set the tone for the rest of the trip. The only problem with the tuk-tuk tour is that you do not get to go into all the sites you are shown, but at least you will get a good overview of what to visit.

 

Just down the street from my Airbnb in Belem, a district in Lisbon, I came across the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art. It was not in any of the guide books I perused. I love horses, and I was lucky to come across it. A guide explained that Lusitano horses from the Alter Real Stud Farm, which was established in 1748 by King Joao V to supply the Royal household and its riding school, are still used today. They also explain the riding styles, which include “airs above the ground” and the saddles and costumes. When the guided tour is finished, you can go across the street where, if you are fortunate, you might see one of the galas or failing that, a weekly presentation. They have daily morning working presentations that are for teaching and preparing the horses for performances. You are not allowed to take pictures. There is also a gift shop where you can buy some beautiful souvenirs like mugs, bags etc. relating to the school. There are refreshments as well.

Further down the street, there is a museum of coaches, the Museu Nacional dos Coches. It is a large exhibition of all ages of coaches, including Pope Clement XI’s gorgeous coach. Across the street is Antigo Picadeiro Real, where only 7 of the majestic coaches are housed. The former royal riding stables are better suited to the coaches than the ultra-modern Museu Nacional dos Coches.

Firefighting equipment back in the day

One site not to be missed is Mosteiro dos Jeronimos. There are always lines for the tickets. But, if you go to the left entrance a little further down, you will get to the Museu Nacional de Arqueologia and can purchase tickets for both. There was hardly anyone at that entrance. The monastery was built with the profits from the spices that were brought back from the subcontinent. The monks of the Order of St. Jerome inhabited the monastery where their spiritual job was to comfort sailors and pray for the king’s soul. Later it was used as an orphanage and school until 1940.

Avoid the lines and go further down the building. Almost no lineup

A bit further is the Torre de Belem. The fortress was designed in 1515 to defend Lisbon’s harbour. The building juts out onto the Rio Tejo, and if you are ambitious, you can climb the spiral stairs for a breathtaking view of the river and Belem. I decided not to take the stairs as I am a little out of shape! It is not for the faint-hearted. And, it is not suitable for someone with claustrophobia.

Also in Belem is the pastry store in Portugal that makes the famous Pastel de Nata. It is said that the owners received or paid the monks for the recipe. The lineups can be a bit daunting, but time goes quickly. The staff are very efficient at getting the customers through. There is a vast area in the back with tables and chairs. Through Airbnb experiences, I was able to book a cooking class to learn how to make these delicious pastries. The class was in a private home. There were just two of us in the class, and the teacher explained everything so well that I was able to make them once home. We sat at her table and had snacks, including our creations. It was like sitting at a friend’s table. It was an interesting and informative evening.

 

Oceanario is absolutely mind-blowing. I spent 3 hours there and probably could have spent more time. There are 8000 marine creatures in 7 million litres of seawater in huge wraparound tanks. There are benches in and around the tanks. You can sit for as long as you like to watch the water life. There are no entertainment shows, and it reproduces rather than capturing whenever possible. Oceanario runs the most extensive environmental program in Portugal.

There is so much to see and do in Lisbon, and I will cover more in the next blog. I still did not see everything, so I will have to return to this beautiful city.

Portugal, part one

“But the most beautiful things in life are not things. They’re people, and places, and memories, and pictures. They’re feelings, and moments, and smiles, and laughter.”  Anonymous

FADO

I have to start my experience in Portugal with Fado. I was absolutely smitten from the first time I heard it. It is a style of music like no other. It is mournful and stirring. There are newer Fados that are more upbeat, which are just as lovely to hear. My Fado experience began with a three-hour tuk-tuk tour, and one of the places my guide took me was to a very tiny bar with a male Fado singer. We were sitting near the door and you can see how close the bar is. I would have loved to go to other bars and restaurants like this. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4tnAm6zvy4

One thing that struck me while I was listening to my first Fado was that no one spoke. The tiny bar was in total silence. When I asked my guide why she politely put her finger to her lips to silence me. Later, I found out that there is an unwritten rule that there is no talking, ordering drinks, or eating. You are to put your utensils down. Also, you are not to enter a bar/club until the singer has finished. I thought that was a great set of rules. It shows respect for the performer. It reminded me of a time in Mexico when we went to hear a very talented guitarist. Even though it was held in a bar, the band was set up on the dance floor, and dancing was discouraged. There were people seated behind us who talked through the whole performance. It was very annoying. Why bother to come to a concert if you do not intend to listen?

I did not understand any of the words that were sung, but the emotion being expressed was universal. It was impossible not to be moved. If you listen carefully, you will feel a bit of the meaning even if you do not understand the words.

Fado has a fascinating history. The famous Fado singer, Amália Rodrigues said “The Portuguese invented Fado because we have a lot to complain about. On one side, we have the Spanish with their swords; on the other side, there’s the sea, which was unknown and fearful. When people set sail, we were waiting and suffering, so Fado is a complaint.” As a homage to Amália Rodrigues and Maria Severa female Fado singers usually wear a black shawl and bright red lipstick. According to one website, Maria Severa worked as a prostitute. She was described as tall, gracious with the voice of an angel. Her voice would capture audiences of rowdy sailors while she sung Fado based upon the hardships she had faced. She died from tuberculosis in 1846 at the age of 26.

Fado has been dominated by female singers, but recently more men are becoming Fadistas. The one difference is in Coimbra. Their fado is closely linked to the University and is sung by men. Both the men and the musicians wear an academic outfit; dark robe, cape and leggings. One story is that it is sung to woo the women.  As lovely as it was to hear, I preferred the fado from Lisbon. Lisbon’s fado is emotional, mournful and powerful.

After my tuk-tuk tour, I knew I had to find more Fado music to listen to. Fortunately, my tuk-tuk guide had a brochure on a few places to listen to Fado. My first one was at the Embaixada Gallery Restaurant. It was a perfect setting to hear Fado.  The room was beautiful. There were two singers, one an “older” woman and the other a young man. I was enthralled.  After that concert, I was absolutely hooked! I tried to take videos, but unfortunately, the quality is not good. However, you will get a general feel of the place and the singers. Sadly I did not get the names of the singers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YarjPVkpZ4E

My next concert was at Pavilháo Chinés (Chinese Pavilion). It is Lisbon’s most iconic bar. The venue itself was unique with thousands of small pieces of art, military artifacts and vintage items. There was hardly an inch that did not have something. When you first enter the bar, there is a restaurant. The room for the concert was in the pool room, which also contained hundreds of items. Unfortunately, I was on the other side of the table, but the room was small enough that it was not a significant problem.

 

Isabelinha was the Fado singer that evening. She was excellent. Isabelinha also took time to explain about Fado to the audience. Below is a link to a Youtube video of hers that will show you her talent.

Accompanying her was Bernardo Couto on the Portuguese guitar and Pedro Saltac on the classical/ Fado guitar. They too were excellent. Unfortunately, I could not find a video for Pedro Saltac.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=autvr1xG2gw

Here is the professional video of Isabelinha

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRtjTP9O9co

When I first decided to go to Portugal, I must be honest and tell you that my decision to go there was first based on the proximity to Morocco where I first would be taking a tour. Portugal was not high on my list of countries to see. I thought it would be interesting but nothing more than that. Fado was my first introduction to my love affair with Portugal. I would gladly return to see more of Portugal, which I don’t say of some countries.

Sung with passion, Fado will touch you.

 

 

 

Tangier, Chefchaouen and Volubilis

Blessed are the curious for they shall have adventures.” Anonymous

TANGIER

Where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea, sits the bustling port of Tangier. The cross-cultural influences in food and architecture from North Africa, Spain, Portugal and France converse in this fascinating city. During World War Two, spies, businessmen, writers, and artists arrived in Tangier seeking opportunities and adding even more to its diversity.

We had an excellent tour guide on this portion of our trip. He took us to the Kasbah where he explained what a Kasbah is (walled city) and how it has changed over the years. An example of such change is the homes within the walled city.  People have started buying homes and apartments and have turned them into BnB’s and vacation rentals. Families who used to live inside its walls have left for life and opportunities outside the Kasbah.

Our local guide

I love doors and there were so many that were very unique.

We also toured the Medina where there many goods for sale from handcrafted Moroccan artisan ware to typical Moroccan food. One place we stopped was the Café Baba where the Rolling Stones were customers when they were holed up in Tangier while awaiting a verdict from their drug charges in the UK.

photo credit Mat McKeever

CHEFCHAOUEN

I really liked Chefchaouen. It is a quiet and relaxed town. You can wander aimlessly and come across many fascinating sights. There were cats everywhere. In stores, restaurants, and in the streets. However, the first thing that you see is BLUE on every building. All different shades of blue. There are a few theories as to why: one popular opinion is that it keeps mosquitos away; another is that the walls are painted blue to attract tourists. Perhaps, it is a combination of the two?

Our Hotel

Photo credit Mat McKeever

Photo credit Mat McKeever

Photo credit Mat McKeever

Photo credit Mat McKeever

 

 

Our group was given a choice to climb up to the Spanish Mosque which is a mile long hike up the hill. I decided that I was not going to attempt it. Instead, I chose to sit and watch locals and tourists alike wander along the river. I loved watching all the people, one of my favourite things to do.

There are plenty of excellent restaurants from which to choose. You could easily spend a pleasant couple of days in this relaxing place.

You will also see cats everywhere. Just like this little cutie.

Photo credit Mat McKeever

VOLUBILIS

Volubilis is a well best-preserved Roman ruin. The walled city was once home to 20,000 people. The buildings were destroyed when an earthquake hit Lisbon in the 18th century which flattened Lisbon. It is incredible that anything survived, but you can still see detailed mosaics with themes of Greek myths on the floors of some of the destroyed buildings.

Entrance

 

It was an incredibly hot day when we toured Volubilis. I would have loved to have taken in more, but quickly realized that my priority more was finding relief from the hot sun than sightseeing. I believe the temperature was in the 40’s Celsius range.

It was time to travel to our next destination

Colima, Mexico Horse Parade

“Travel makes you realize that no matter how much you know, there’s always more to learn.”

Every year Mex-Eco Tours organizes a trip to Colima to see the annual Fiestas Charrotaurinas, held in honour of San Felipe de Jesus. This tour is so popular that it must be booked one year, in advance.

I have always loved horses. Even as a child I collected ceramic ones. Later in life, I owned 2 horses. One I had never ridden and the other I rode many times until she threw me and I broke my wrist. Still, I have maintained my love and awe for them. This trip was like a dream for me.

Our group started with a tour of La Petatera, a handmade wooden bullring, which is constructed and then taken down every year for fiestas, horse shows and bullfighting. We were greeted by Mayor Felipe Cruz Calvario and a delegation, including Eulalia Villalvazo and Oscar Gaitan Cabrera from the Colima tourism. We felt honoured. They are very passionate about their city and, as I was to discover, rightfully so.

To contact Oscar Gaitlan Cabrera, Promoción Divulgación: buras52@hotmail.com

To contact Eulalia Villalvazo, Tourism Colima: tourismovilladealvarez1821@gmail.com

The bullring was first built in 1857. At one time it was two stories high, but in 1942 there was an earthquake, and after that, it was decided to make it a one-story building. The same 63 families have been building the bullring for the past 175 years, passing down the knowledge of how it is constructed to the next generation. If the family cannot do part of the construction, they are allowed to hire someone to do it. The builders use no nails or any “modern” methods. The wooden structure is covered with mats made with palm leaves. Forty people take 30 – 45 days to complete construction. It is all measured and laid out, without the use of a measuring tape, but by one man using a special stick. Two years ago this 84-year-old was supposed to hand over this stick to his son, but apparently, he was not ready yet to relinquish control. There are no blueprints for this building. It is all in the head. Each person that is involved knows exactly what they are doing. That includes the bullring and all the corrals outside. It takes one week to take down. The wood, mats and other material are kept year after year only to be replaced if damaged. It is the responsibility of each family to store their wood and materials. The bullring is divided into 70 parts, and there is one share per family. The remaining part is owned by the government and is decided by vote as to which family will get that share. 120 families are vying for that part. Each share brings in money from the sale of tickets. Whatever tickets are sold for each section goes to the family who owns it. The bullring holds 7000 people.

The bullfight lasts for a few days and one morning is set aside for inexperienced riders to mount the less spirited bulls. Don’t think I will be doing that.
The tour of the bullring and learning of its history, as well as the story behind the patron Saint San Felipe de Jesus, was fascinating and informative. There is so much history.

We spent the rest of the day exploring some of Colima.

The tour company had reserved rooms at the Best Western Plus Hotel. The accommodations were very nice and the staff friendly and helpful. The hotel had set up tables for our group directly in front of the parade route. We could literally reach out and touch some of the horses.

Best Western Plus: https://www.bestwestern.com/en_US/book/hotels-in-colima/best-western-plus-hotel-ceballos/propertyCode.70146.html

There were between 2500 and 2900 horses. The number is actually irrelevant as there were so many horses that it took three to four hours for the parade to finish. The parade started a few blocks from where we were and continued for several kilometres until it reached the bullring. Not only were there horses but several floats carrying live bands playing. The bands were very loud but entertaining. I felt sorry for the horses that were directly behind those floats. There were also large puppet-like figures and of course the shrine to Saint San Felipe de Jesus. Many of the horses did fancy footwork. Most of the riders gave their horses a break from the intense footwork, but a few did not. When they passed by us, those horses were already frothing, and they still had a few kilometres to go.
All in all, it was a fascinating event to see.

photo credit Lucia McCann

photo credit Lucia McCann

Photo credit Lucia McCann

Two short videos to give you an idea of what it was like.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQqdVTIo5Jo

and https://youtu.be/pKsoZFtv7yg

As part of the tour, we drove to Comala, a small town close to Colima.

We visited the Ex-Hacienda de Nogueras. In the 18th century, it was a renowned sugar company founded by the Spaniard Juan de Noguera. Today, it is part of the University of Colima. Its facilities were remodelled to become a Study Center, Eco Park and the Alejandro Rangel University Museum which exhibits works of the famous artist, Alejandro Rangel Hidalgo. The Eco Park is used for the preservation of flora and fauna research in the region. You will find medicinal plants, fruit trees and composting. There is also an area where the use of alternative energy is shown and where they have workshops on recycling and environmental training. In 2003, Comala won the best magic town in Mexico award.

Horsetail that we consider is a weed

We also went to the University of Arts where we were fortunate enough to see some very talented artists at work.

In a small village, Suchitlan, near Comala we went to the home and workshop of Gorgonio Candelario Castro, son of the renowned carver Herminio Candelario Dolores who passed away a few years ago. I had visited them several years ago when his father was still alive. I was pleasantly surprised that he remembered me. Gorgonio maintains the traditions of his people, the land and the spirits which inhabit it. As his father did, he specializes in the masks used in the traditional dances. I feel fortunate to have one of his masks.

 


Next on our tour was to a coffee plantation where we learned about the process of making coffee. The coffee beans are grown organically, and the claim is that the mild ash falling from the active volcano provides nutrients to the soil which in turn, makes a better coffee bean. We finished with a wonderful latte and the opportunity to purchase their coffee.

Our last stop was to “Ron Clasica,” a rum distillery. The distillery was conceived by the owners who were looking to start something unique. They felt that they could make a good rum because of the sugar cane in the area. They hired a consultant from Cuba to see if the sugar cane was of good enough quality to make a superior rum. The consultant did not think that it would be good enough. He was pleasantly surprised to find that it was. He eventually ended up working for the family. After a tour of the facility and the sugar cane fields, we were given the ingredients to make mojitos. After that, were served martinis made with tamarind, lime and rum. Some good!

 


The only disappointment with this trip was the fact that we could not stay longer. We explored only a small part of this wonderful city. I keep wanting to go back and see more. It has that special feel. I would highly recommend a visit to Colima.

We had an excellent tour guide, Florencio Amexcua Quiroz. He was very knowledgeable about Colima and the surrounding area. I would definitely use him again for a guide. Email: corazondecolima@gmail.com Phone: (312) 314-08-96

Travelling with Dementia; a journey of unbelievable proportions

I am very happy to once again have Christine Thelker as a guest writer. This blog will hopefully inspire you, as it did me, to go out and enjoy life regardless of what is holding you back. There is always a way. Thank you so much, Christine, for your inspiring story.  

 

Travelling with Dementia: a journey of unbelievable proportions

The journey over the last year has been unbelievable, not all has been easy, but all have brought about some very amazing sights, sounds and meeting of some of the most amazing people imaginable. The last time I wrote I was on a journey to return to Cassiar Cannery, a favourite place of mine to retreat and regroup. It was there that I met Suzanne and her husband, which lead to me appearing as a guest writer on this travel blog.  There were a few things I had not mentioned in that blog, one and the most important being that I am a person living with Dementia. That trip was taken because the doctors were talking about taking my license away, and my health was declining.  This trip leads me on the most unbelievable journey. I became involved with Dementia Alliance International. It is an association that is in 47 countries run solely by and for people living with Dementia.  Delving into becoming an active member saw me advocating, and writing a blog about living with Dementia – Chrissy’s Journey can be found on Facebook.

 

I spent seven months unable to drive, which was heartbreaking, and challenging, but I persevered. I travelled differently, mostly on foot, saw things from a different perspective, and saw things close to home that I had always missed. It taught me to stop the car, get out and look around. Seven months later, after spending months working on lifestyle and nutrition changes, and exercise programs, I was once again driving. Oh, happy day. Since then there have been many road trips. Some close to home, some like my trip to Chicago last July to speak at the International Convention on Alzheimer’s. Trips as late as last week, with a new found partner, who I am also grateful to have, and who is thrilled to journey down the highways and byways with me.

That is me in the middle.

Chicago was a lifetime and life-changing experience.  There I met many of my colleagues with Dementia Alliance International, where after having had many zoom meetings we all converged to speak at the convention.  From as far away as Japan, we had people from around the globe representing our group. It was wonderful to meet face to face. Exploring Chicago was a pleasant surprise and a city I hope to return to. Chicago is clean, safe, and has easy access to everything, from the buses that show you the sites to city buses, trains and boats. They are all easy to navigate.  The waterfront is stunning. The Magnificent Mile is truly a treasure. Walking it along the riverfront, restaurants, and coffee shops abound. We felt safe walking at 11 at night. In the morning, getting to and from venues, and the airport was so simple.


 

 

It somehow doesn’t feel like a city. It has a relaxed atmosphere; people don’t seem harried or rushed

here. If you get the chance, visit this city.

Returning home, it was time for my partner and me to make plans for our life together; we had committed to each other.  This commitment saw Jim move from Prince George to Kamloops and me from Vernon to Kamloops to combine our lives. We would be living in a fifth wheel trailer. Kamloops is desert-like, a lovely city which offers something for everyone. The surrounding area is stunning on its own. From there Jim’s work took us to Spences Bridge, the warmest spot in Canada. Spences Bridge is a very old town with stunning scenery and great fishing. There is no shopping, but there is a wonderful little log cabin pub, which offers great food, a combined coffee shop/post office / small store for essentials only.  We were there for about a month, which allowed for great exploring the surrounding areas and what I refer to as circle tours, great little day trips. The back road to Merritt is a lovely drive. There is no need to stay on the main highways when you explore. Merritt a lively small town. The trip from Merritt to Logan Lake, another town that is unexpected is a mining community, set in some beautiful country. Continuing on your venture to Ashcroft which can also be accessed from Highway 1, but the back road from Logan Lake to Ashcroft gives you many awe stopping moments.  Ashcroft is a delightful town. It has a bit of everything.

 

Another circle tour saw us go from Spences Bridge to Lytton, and on to Lillooet. Another town steep in history, quaint, and yet it has maintained its unique style but up to date at the same time, with everything including lovely wineries.  We then arrived back in Kamloops for a couple of weeks then another move this time to the West Kootenays, finding ourselves in Castlegar.  The Kootenays have offered us much to see and for me a homecoming. I was born just down the road in Trail and grew up in Fruitvale. After 46 years of absence, I have returned at least for a time.  This trip has been an unbelievable chapter in my life, exploring Rossland, Trail, Nelson, and surrounding areas, Fruitvale will be next and will be a chapter unto itself I think.  Many great little circle tours here. Castlegar, Trail, Rossland, and back around the majestic Nancy Green Mountain. These towns offer a glimpse into the past and how much of the past still function here today side by side with life as we have it today.  Taking the highway from Castlegar through the Slocan Valley to Nakusp and down into the Okanagan, is another breathtaking journey. Lakes abound, Kootenay Lake with the majesty of Nelson perched on its hillside, Arrow Lakes, home to Nakusp, New Denver, Slocan Lake which boosts the quaint town of Slocan.

I have more areas yet to explore, but this is what the last year has looked like.  I hope to share more of my journey as long as my health allows, and life sees us having the opportunities. My advice to everyone, don’t just drive through towns, stop the car, get out, take a walk, you may meet some incredible people and see things you never imagined.  These are things and moments that make life memorable

 

 

.